Scaling new heights: 4 tips for launching your product in a new market

It probably won’t surprise you to read that, like any right-thinking UX agency, we’re big Figma fans here at Lighthouse. It’s our go-to for UI work and it continues to delight us regularly.

So, just like last year, a bunch of us eagerly tuned in to Config this year, and – just like last year – got very over excited about the new features revealed.

Much like Mina Bach’s talk last year, there was a stand-out speaker for us this time too.

It was Ghanian Derrick Tsorme, a UX designer at ‘shopitality’ platform Hubtel, and we hosted a watch party with our clients Bank of Kigali which made it even more fun.

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Derrick’s talk focused on designing for the African market – something we have a good bit of knowledge about these days, thanks to our long-term engagement with BK 🇷🇼

It offered some fascinating and specific insights into why products fail to launch in Africa, despite success in other markets.

Who knew that many people in Ghana value ‘tried and tested’ second-hand over ‘unknown’ brand new, for example? Or that yellow, blue and red are seen as happy colours?

What really struck us is how the points Derrick made relate to the wider picture around the highs and lows of taking an established product to any new market.

With that in mind, we’ve pulled together our best words of wisdom, gained from years of experience partnering with product teams as they boldly go in new directions.

#1 Spot the right opportunity gap at the right time

A good product team always has their eye on the next big thing.

Watching what competitors are up to, what direction industry trends are going in and what people are using to solve the problem your product focuses on is second-nature.

Being on top of this means spotting opportunities quickly and capitalising on them.

There isn’t a magic timeline for when a product should look to enter a new market. Traditional business strategists would say that the right time is ‘once you’ve proven success’, but in a competitive sector this may be too late.

‘You snooze, you lose’ as the saying goes.

It’s way more important to focus on a considered, incremental approach so that any teething problems in the new market don’t end up costing a ton of time or money than to fixate on a date on the calendar.

#2 Localisation matters (a lot)

Shaping a product for a new target market is about more than just ensuring the words are translated correctly, changing the currency and double-checking that you aren’t breaking any little-known regional laws.

A good localisation strategy encompasses every element of that market’s cultural norms – meaning there’s a ton more learning to do than you might first assume.

Fun localisation fact – China’s stock market uses red for stock gains and green for losses 🤯

Underestimate the cultural nuance element of localisation at your peril. TikTok did just that with their recent ‘shop’ feature when they attempted to transplant its model straight from Asia, and are paying the price with the service failing to gain traction.

A current employee told the FT that:

The company’s leadership do not understand the British market. There has been an arrogance and ignorance of trying to export the model from Douyin [TikTok’s Chinese sister app] but not wanting to localise the experience.

#3 Trust takes time and knowledge

There are no shortcuts to having a product that is trusted by a new wave of users and that feels like it belongs in their world.

Five star reviews are great, but word of mouth is infinitely more powerful, and that is something that’s going to take time.

Tapping into local knowledge by hiring local talent will give you some precious insights, and making a demonstrable investment in their region will help convince your new market that you aren’t just cashing in.

If this isn’t feasible, an on-the-ground representative who can keep you up to speed with what’s going on will be worth their weight in gold.

#4 User research is non-transferable

We’re sure you realise by now that user research is never a ‘one and done’ activity.

A cycle of continuous learning, iteration and testing is always the way to go, and a product team in touch with current and potential users is way more likely to spot the right opportunities to scale.

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It probably comes as no surprise that user research done with one market can’t be ‘carried over’ to another one. You may know one type of user better than you know yourself, but you’ve got a lot more learning to do if you’re hoping to connect with new markets.

Attempting to do this in one huge project is probably setting yourself up for failure, however.

Undertaking a piece of global research that aims to capture insights from every territory, gaining understanding of lots of markets sounds sensible on the face of it, but involves massive complexity, resource and investment.

Focus instead on really getting to grips with one market and then using what you learn about what did and didn’t work to inform the next area.

Being a market leader in one or two areas is almost always preferable to limited success in ten.

Ready to go big or go home?

If there’s one overarching takeaway from both Derrick and from us, it’s that there’s a heck of a lot more to bringing even the most established product to a new market than announcing its arrival and waiting for success to happen.

Expect to spend more time learning, understanding and really digging into this new user base than you thought possible, and leave your assumptions at the door.

Success in new markets is a process not a destination, and a thoughtful, considered expansion strategy that sees you take a solid value proposition to a new area you understand and respect is likely to reap rewards. 🙌

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